A ruling today by a Federal Court judge could derail the Harper government's legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board's exclusive powers to market wheat and barley.
Justice Douglas Campbell will rule whether Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law when he introduced Bill C-18 this fall without consulting with the wheat board or holding a plebiscite of Prairie grain farmers.
The Canadian Wheat Board argued in court Tuesday Ritz ran afoul of the Canadian Wheat Board Act when he introduced the legislation Oct. 18. The Conservatives fast-tracked the bill through the House of Commons -- invoking closure and limiting who could speak to it at the committee stage. The Senate is considering it.
The wheat board and a group called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board filed separate but similar applications in Federal Court challenging the government's bid to end the CWB monopoly without the farm vote they said is required by law.
The judge heard more than six hours of arguments before a packed courtroom on Tuesday, declaring he would issue a written ruling on both applications today. He'd had written arguments from the CWB, the Friends, the federal government and two intervenors for weeks.
On Tuesday, seven of eight farmer-elected CWB directors named in its application were in court to observe the proceedings. They appeared delighted the judge would rule today.
CWB chairman Allen Oberg, an Alberta farmer, said afterwards a favourable ruling should force the Harper government to hold a vote on the wheat board's sales monopoly.
"We would expect the federal government to respect the decision and obey the law and the declaration that this court makes," he said.
Bill C-18 would create an open market for Prairie wheat and barley for the first time in generations. It's unclear what role -- if any -- an emasculated CWB could play in the future.
The court case -- the latest in several court actions over the years between the wheat board and the Harper government -- hinges on whether the court accepts the argument that section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act requires Ottawa to hold a farm vote.
Federal lawyer Robert MacKinnon said the lawsuits filed by the CWB and the Friends constitute "an improper attempt to interfere with the legislative process" and "an improper attempt to challenge Bill C-18 before it's enacted."
Failing that, the federal lawyers argued, section 47.1 does not require the minister to hold a plebiscite before introducing a bill to end the CWB's sales monopoly. A vote is only required under the wheat board act if a specific grain is to be added to or subtracted from the CWB's sales mandate. The CWB and the Friends called that argument absurd.